August 5, 2009 / 8:57 AM / 10 years ago

Senator holds up U.S. anti-drug aid to Mexico

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico has not yet met human rights requirements laid down in U.S. law for the release of millions of dollars in U.S. anti-narcotics aid, a Democratic senator said on Wednesday.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (R) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) listen to opening statements from committee members during confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor on Capitol Hill in Washington July 13, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Senator Patrick Leahy said in a statement that it would be premature for the U.S. government to issue a report affirming Mexico is respecting human rights in its war against drug traffickers.

Leahy is chairman of a subcommittee that oversees foreign aid spending. His stance could delay the release of millions of dollars in U.S. anti-narcotics aid under a program called the Merida Initiative, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

“The law withholds 15 percent of the Merida funds until the Secretary of State reports to Congress that the Mexican government is meeting four requirements, including prosecuting military and police officers who violate human rights,” Leahy said in a statement.

“Those requirements have not been met, so it is premature to send the report to Congress. We had good faith discussions with Mexican and U.S. officials in reaching these requirements in the law, and I hope we can continue in that spirit,” he said.

The State Department had intended to send a favorable report on Mexico’s human rights record ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Guadalajara for a summit of North American leaders this weekend, the Post said, citing officials familiar with the report.

More than $100 million in U.S. aid to Mexico is at stake under the Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion counter-narcotics package launched in 2007 under former President George W. Bush, the Post said.

The aid, aimed at helping Mexico crush the drug trade that has most of its market in the United States, is for uses such as training Mexico’s police and buying helicopters and other equipment.

“I continue to support the goals of the Merida Initiative, but the military strategy alone is not a solution in the long term nor is it yet clear what it can achieve in the short term,” Leahy said in his statement.

“Mexico needs effective police forces and a justice system that works. And as long as the demand for drugs in the United States and the flow of guns to Mexico continue at these levels, it will be difficult to neutralize the cartels.”

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has poured about $7 billion into a military crackdown on drug cartels that send some $40 billion worth of illegal drugs across the U.S. border each year.

Concerns have been raised in the U.S. Congress about possible human rights violations by Mexican troops in the crackdown.

The Post said State Department officials were considering rewriting the report before submitting it to Congress, probably after it reconvenes in September after its month-long summer recess.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Eric Walsh

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